Sun shines for Resurgence anniversary conference

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Issue 300
January/February 2017
A Plea for Empathy

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Sun shines for Resurgence anniversary conference
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Cover: Artwork by Melvyn Evans www.melvynevans.com

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Highlights from the One Earth, One Humanity, One Future event.

Photograph © Roy Riley 2016

Photograph © Roy Riley 2016

A summer of celebration to mark the 50th anniversary of Resurgence climaxed in late September when hundreds of readers joined leading figures from the fields of environment, social justice, ethical living and the arts for the One Earth, One Humanity, One Future conference at Worcester College, Oxford.

In a video address at the conference opening, The Prince of Wales sent a message of greetings to Resurgence. Recalling 50 years of struggle for the environment movement, Prince Charles warned that “the crises we have pointed towards for so long are now upon us.”

James Sainsbury, chair of The Resurgence Trust, called for a “resurgence of the human spirit”, adding, “I believe that what makes Resurgence & Ecologist different from so many other small publications, which were thrown up in the cultural ferment of the mid-1960s, is its holistic worldview – which fully understands the importance of considering spirituality along with questions of environmental and social sustainability; of celebrating the beauties of the world, as well as resolving to tackle the gross inequalities and injustices that we see around us.”

Lord Puttnam, the distinguished film-maker, insisted that “problems caused by people must and can be solved by people.” Vandana Shiva, the Indian environmental campaigner agreed: “The world is not fed by GMOs [genetically modified crops] or big companies, but by our loving hearts and loving hands,” she said.

“Our world is not for sale”

The first full day of the conference saw a packed marquee for a conversation between Vandana Shiva and Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury. Shiva developed her earlier theme, arguing that attempts to commodify the Earth’s sacred natural resources underlay increasing human conflict. Williams, concurred: “The more we become prisoners of materialism, the less we understand the material world,” he said.

Other highlights included talks by Chris Smith, former culture secretary, on poetry and environmental awareness, Jonathon Porritt and Caroline Lucas MP on possible futures for Green politics, and land artist Richard Long on his work – and Fiona Reynolds, former head of the National Trust, and Professor Mark Williams, an Oxford psychologist and specialist on mindfulness, found common ground discussing the importance of Nature and place to health.

Welcomes and wellbeing

The warm welcome given by the staff of Worcester College will be an abiding memory. The Provost of the college, Sir Jonathan Bate, and his wife, the author Paula Byrne, were contributors to the events as well as ever-generous hosts. Bate chaired a session on the second day in which the poet Simon Armitage and the author Michael Morpurgo enchanted another full house with their readings.

If the Saturday sessions emphasised the written word, that evening’s candlelit dinner in college hall had another master of the form in Alan Rusbridger, former editor of the Guardian. Appropriately marking the 50th anniversary of a radical magazine, Rusbridger reminded his audience in a witty speech of the importance of journalism in the campaigns for environmental as well as social justice.

A call for the planet

The autumn sunshine that had blessed the conference was briefly interrupted by rain on the final morning – but since it came as the zoologist Andrew Mitchell was invoking the spirit of the Amazonian rainforest, the sudden downpour only added to the enjoyment felt by an audience safely under canvas. Activism became a strong theme, exemplified by the American climate activist Bill McKibben and Britain’s George Monbiot and peace researcher Scilla Elworthy.

McKibben addressed the challenge of climate change. “This is a call for a planet which is now well outside its comfort zone,” he said. “Which means we need to be outside our comfort zone. Whatever you are doing, go beyond your comfort zone, in a nonviolent way.”

Femi Nylander then held the audience with a rap poem, Anthropocene, and our poet-in-residence Matt Harvey delivered crowd-sourced verses, before Naytika and Nilpa Shah demonstrated the beauty of Indian classical dance.

Closing the conference, Greg Neale, the new Editor-in-chief, paid tribute to his predecessors before looking to the future. “We’ll do our best to ensure we can meet again soon at a similar gathering. Until then, please join us in continuing the work of Resurgence,” he said.

Satish Kumar, who stood down as Editor-in-chief of The Resurgence Trust in August this year after 43 years at the magazine’s helm, made a six-day, 50-mile pilgrimage from the source of the River Thames to Oxford to raise the curtain for the One Earth, One Humanity, One Future conference. The walk, during which Satish and his family were joined by other supporters, ended at the site of the first-ever Oxfam bookshop, acknowledging Oxfam’s support for the conference.

Each day, the walkers performed a ritual of respect for the Earth’s symbolic four elements, and lit a candle. Nor did the walking stop: each morning at the conference, a ritual walk through the college grounds began the day’s proceedings.

Will Gethin is a freelance journalist and founder of Conscious Frontiers.www.consciousfrontiers.com

Films of some of the conference speeches will be available via the Resurgence website in coming months: www.resurgence.org/R50event

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